When a friend (and friend of this blog) wrote me awhile back, asking if I would consent to a free shipment of some Canadian snack foods, how could I say no? The topic came up after discussing some snack foods that are alleged to be favorites in the Fifty United States, in which I lambasted my own state for the lack of good taste in choosing Pringles “potato” chips as favorites.
Some Canadian readers chimed in with mentions of some local favorites with which I was not familiar. It was a few days after that little bit of verbal cultural exchange when reader DougD wrote me.
I have known Doug online for quite a few years now and we have met on a couple of occasions, so I had no hesitation providing my bricks-and-mortar address for the package he proposed to send.
I had no idea what to expect, but a parcel eventually arrived in excellent condition and full of the kinds of things I would have eaten plenty of, had I been a teenager in Doug’s country. I opened the box and pulled out one thing after another that I had never before experienced. In no particular order, they were Jos. Louis cakes, a Coffee Crisp candy bar, Dare maple cookies, Hawkins Cheesies and (drum roll) Lays Ketchup Potato Chips.
OK, perhaps calling it “International Cuisine” might be making that term a bit more malleable than it should be, but cuisine is certainly food and Canada is a different country from my U.S. place of residence, so we can legitimately check both boxes. And as you all know, I am a confirmed fan of snack foods from way back. Although I exercise more good sense and restraint these days, I have consumed (more than) my share of Hostess Twinkies, Cupcakes and Ding Dongs, pretzels, chips and candy bars native to my midwestern locale, and have even gone for the TastyKakes that were my father’s
childhood lifetime favorites.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I contemplated my newfound treats, wondering how I should handle these. There was no question but that a blog post would result, but what would be the theme? How I plowed through complete packages of five Canadian snacks in a single sitting? A side-by-side comparison with the closest American counterpart I could find for each? Or give them as gifts to people and watch their expressions? I am kidding on the last one, as I never for even one second contemplated giving them away without consuming at least part of them.
The solution hit me – I would make a family thing out of it, and we could all sample each product and offer some impressions. My original plans to do so on Christmas day were dashed when 1) Daughter had to stay away and in quarantine due to her fiancee’ contracting a case of Covid and 2) feeling quite ill myself that day with something I can only identify as Not-Covid.
The plan more or less came together when we assembled most of the family in a couple of different sessions. So first, meet your judges. 1) There is your author, of course. 2) Marianne – long suffering spouse of JP, who normally has much better sense than to eat food like this. 3) Son No. 1, a 29 year old Dominican Catholic priest (Father Son?) in for a visit from out of state. 4) Son No. 2, a 27 year old specialist in advertising and content creation for an online education resources company (who is quite accomplished in the kitchen) and, finally, and 5) Son No. 2’s fiancee’, a lovely young lady who works with autistic children and has culinary tastes several steps more developed than those of her future father-in-law, but is a good sport.
Judges 1, 2 and 5 chose to start at salty and end at sweet, so let us identify our tested treats in this order:
Lay’s Ketchup Flavored Potato Chips. Lay’s Potato Chips are claimed to be Canada’s favorite (or favourite, if you prefer) brand. As many flavors as we have in the US, Ketchup is one flavor we yanks do not get. Perhaps not surprisingly, they tasted like potato chips dipped in ketchup. I had never considered potato chips and ketchup as a combination, but now that I have, why not? These were surprisingly good, and I would buy them occasionally if they were offered locally. As many bottles of Heinz sells here, you would think that they would pair up with another chip maker if Lay’s can’t be bothered to shuffle some of these off to Buffalo and points south.
Judging: comments: Surprisingly good; like fries without the fries; shame we can’t get these; well done flavor, any ketcup lover would be in love.
Hawkins Cheezies. W. T. Hawkins, Ltd. is a family business that traces back to the late 1940’s when two friends in Chicago perfected the product. For reasons unknown they skedaddled north of the border and have been producing Cheezies ever since. We Americans have our Cheetos and a thousand minor brands of the crunchy, fried, cheese-powder-coated corn puff, but this Canadian icon has a unique flavor. I will confess to being a big fan of Cheetos (the crunchy, fried kind) and I am not sure this Canadian product would force them out of my shopping cart (if I were in a Cheeto mood) but a few sittings convinced me that I could do a lot worse.
Judging comments: Crunchier than Cheetos; Not Cheetos, but no cheese on the fingers; Like Bugles with cheese; Like a cheesy Frito, quite nice.
Dare Maple Creme Cookies. This company goes back to 1889 as a maker of cookies and candies (changing its name from Doerr to Dare in 1945). These Maple Creme cookies are evidently a Quebec staple. I love maple flavor and I love cookies, so I will confess a touch of disappointment when the real article did not cash the checks my imagination had written for these. Still, after a few more, I could see the attraction. And . . . wait, they’re gone. And I want more. Dare sells some products here in the US but I have not seen these cookies – perhaps I need to pay more attention.
Judging comments: Don’t taste as good as they smell; would be better with milk; really good but the cookie lets it down – would be better with a shortbread cookie.
Vachon Jos Louis Cakes. We Americans think of Ding Dongs (by Hostess) but Ding Dongs are not nearly as old as the Jos Louis cakes (which Mr. and Mrs. Vachon named after their sons, Jos and Louis in 1932). Two little round pieces of cake that is a cross between chocolate and red velvet, some creamy filling in the center and then the whole thing is dipped in chocolate to keep it all together. As a fan of Ding Dongs from way back, this was an enjoyable treat. The chocolate coating in our sampled cakes was extremely delicate, so any manhandling will leave you with large hunks of chocolate shell left in the plastic wrapper. Which is not unpleasant to eat on its own. I could get used to these pretty quickly.
Judging Comments: Nicely done, but the chocolate coating is really delicate; Messy; Better than a Ding Dong; A Ding Dong with an unpleasant aftertaste.
Nestle Coffee Crisp. Last, but certainly not least, comes the most candy-like of these treats. Like much in Canada, this treat hails from England. The Rowntree Wafer Crisp was renamed the Biscrisp at its introduction in the 1930’s, and the coffee-flavored spinoff hit Canadian shelves in 1938. A delightful little sandwich of alternating layers of crisp wafers, coffee-flavored candy and a chocolate coating were kept on after Nestle bought the company. There have been some Americans who have tried to get the product sold here, but those who run Nestle in Canada have paid us no mind. This one may have been my personal favorite of the lot – I love chocolate, I love coffee, and the two go together like, well, chocolate and coffee.
Judging Comments: Nailed the coffee/chocolate combo; Nice crunch; A coffee-flavored cream wafer; A little too thick, OK but not great.
For anyone into the raw data, the judging went like this:
I feel a little bad for some of the lower scorers – a taste of any of them would be good right about now. I also feel a little bad for DougD, as I have not sent Doug U.S.-only treats in return. Although I had offered to do so. Perhaps Doug simply has more sense or better-developed tastes than I do. In any case, I feel very international right now. Maybe it’s time to locate a Tim Horton’s.
All photos by the author.